No. 6 Alabama gymnastics (6-2) had a chance to clinch the Southeastern Conference regular season title Friday night. A win against the No. 1 Florida Gators (8-0) in Coleman Coliseum would have been huge for the Tide, but a loss of momentum in the second half kept the program from attaining its 10th regular season conference title.
“The second half of the meet we were in a position to win a championship,” head coach Dana Duckworth said. “We did not do some things we’re capable of and there was disappointment in the overall outcome.”
Florida began the meet uncharacteristically: the team closed off its first rotation on the uneven bars with a season-low of 49.075. Alabama’s second best score of the season on vault, 49.300, allowed for it to head into the second rotation with a .225 lead. Blanco led the event with a 9.925, which allowed her to capture the event title.
The Gators gained ground on the Crimson Tide at the conclusion of the second rotation. A score of 9.750 from sophomore anchor Makarri Doggette on the uneven bars had to be counted due to fellow sophomore Mati Waligora’s 9.350 in the leadoff position. Blanco was the star of the event yet again. She won her second event title by tying her career-high of 9.950.
Alabama posted a 49.325 on the balance beam, marking its fourth straight score of 49.300 on the event. But a strong 49.525 score on floor from the Gators shorted the Crimson Tide’s lead to less than a tenth of a point: .050.
Heading into the final event with a small lead, Alabama looked as if it would have to tie its season-high on floor, 49.550, in order to secure the win. Florida was about to mount the balance beam, an apparatus where the Gators rank at No. 1 in the nation.
But the floor hasn’t been the brightest spot for the Tide this season. Alabama has only scored above 49.300 once. On Friday, the team came in just below the 49.300 mark.
Alabama scored 49.275, and Florida posted a 49.425. The Gators closed out an undefeated regular season with a score of 197.425–197.225.
Though the outcome on the floor left something to be desired, senior Lexi Graber had a stand-out performance. Graber tied her career-high of 9.975, which allowed her to win a share of the event title.
Blanco also contributed a 9.900 on the floor exercise to secure her third-straight all-around title with a score of 39.700.
“Kudos to Luisa Blanco for being stunning and just amazing all evening,” Duckworth said.
Despite the loss, Graber stated she was proud of the effort displayed by her team and Duckworth believes the loss will be a motivating factor heading into postseason play.
“As we use this for fuel, it will allow us to get better,” Duckworth said.
Alabama will have 15 days to prepare for the SEC Championship in Huntsville on March 20. The Crimson Tide will compete during the 7 p.m. session, which will be televised on the SEC Network+.